Can Food Be Labelled ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’?

Content warning: discussion of food and calories


We all know the concept of a cheat day or a cheat meal.


If I asked you to name a food that’s ‘bad’ or unhealthy, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of answers you would give Pizza, cake, pasta, chips, burgers, cookies. In contrast to ‘good’ foods like kale, carrots, salad or apples.


But why are these foods ‘bad’? What makes food ‘bad’? Most often, it’s because it has low nutritional value, is calorically dense, or contains fat, or sugar, or carbs. According to diet culture, these things inhibit you from losing weight, or make you gain it.


Food is deemed ‘bad’ when it’s perceived to make or keep us fat. By extension, this suggests that being fat is bad.
You know diet culture has gone too far when, rather than simply ‘eating’, ‘intuitive eating’ is a phrase or when eating something you’re craving is termed ‘cheating’.


There are all kinds of issues with diet culture whether it’s body shaming, or fatphobia, or labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Let’s focus on one of them today. Let’s focus on what you really mean when you say things like, “I’ve been so bad today; I had a burger for lunch”. Eating a burger is ‘bad’ because a burger is calorically dense and contains a lot of fat; eating a burger is ‘bad’ because you want to lose or maintain your weight.


And that’s your right. After all, it’s your body. But what does it say to those around you about your priorities? This burger wasn’t a ‘good’ choice because it tasted amazing and you enjoyed it; it was a ‘naughty’ choice you feel ashamed of because you’ve consumed more calories than you should to lose weight. It’s telling people that being thin is more important to you than being happy and enjoying yourself. It’s telling people that you think, ultimately, no matter how many body positive selfies you post and how often you say you work out to be confident and healthy, you don’t want to be big. Because being big is ‘bad’.


This is a problem because it isn’t just that you’re telling them that big is ‘bad’, but also that fat is ugly, and weight gain is a death sentence. It’s our entire culture. It’s what we’re all telling each other. That we should eat ‘good’ foods all the time, except for cheat days, when we can indulge in the ‘bad’ foods. Because we should be thin, or at least we should want to be thin. And for some reason, liking food more than wanting to be skinny is the wrong kind of priority. Cookies are objectively ‘bad’ because they’ll “make you fat”. They can’t be good just because they taste really good, and they’re what you’ve been craving, and you really enjoy eating them, and they provide you with some much-needed calories and fast energy because you haven’t had a chance to eat in a couple hours and you’re really hungry.


Even if a cookie makes you feel good, it’s ‘bad’. Because being thin is more important than being happy and enjoying a nice meal or a drink with some friends.


Foods have no moral value. We need food. Anything you eat will provide you with energy, so unless it’s poisonous or negatively impacts your health, it’s not bad.


Let’s stop labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on whether or not they’ll help or hinder weight loss. Let’s start labelling them as good or bad based on what they taste like and how they make us feel.


Being slim isn’t as important as everyone makes it out to be. I promise. There are so many things that matter way more, so please just have a goddamn cookie.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez

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